© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Onondaga County's 'Hire Ground' program so popular, people are turned away

In My Father's Kitchen Facebook
Hire Ground crew cleans up the Onondaga County War Memorial earlier this month.

In its first six months, the Hire Ground program in Syracuse, which provides work experience to panhandlers and the homeless, has helped 250 people. The co-founder of the agency running the program, wants it to expand next year. 

How the Hire Ground program works is every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a van picks up people at various shelters and other locations, and brings them to job sites to do mostly beautification projects, like picking up litter and weeding parks. They work a five-hour shift and get paid $50. But right now, only nine people can be picked up at one time.

John Tumino is the co-founder of In My Father’s Kitchen, a nonprofit that works with the chronically homeless and won the bid for the Hire Ground program.

“Sometimes there’s 25 people waiting to get on the van and we can only take three off of that corner,” Tumino said. “So, you have to turn 20 people away. It’s the hardest thing to say to someone, you can’t get on the van today. The people are hungry to work.”

Tumino said by showing the data, hopefully more funding will be made available from Onondaga County, beyond the current $200,000 budget, to add another van and go five days a week.

"They just want to work, they just want a chance," Tumino said. "You can see diginity coming back. They dont have to stand on a corner. They always say, it's so embarrassing, it's humiliating, standing out there. You're letting us work today."

So far, eight people from the program have gotten jobs from local businesses, 24 people are now signed up for Medicaid and some even go into rehab. And with winter coming up, Tumino said he's working with local and state officials to find new work, like possibly shoveling and de-icing.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.